The Reef by Mark Charan Newton
|Book Name:||The Reef|
|Author:||Mark Charan Newton|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||March 24, 2008|
I recently discovered that Mark’s debut novel was available for the Kindle for a mere £1.43 on Amazon. Slightly curious as to why I tweeted the man himself. As always, Mark was polite, helpful and honest, and explained that the ebook of The Reef had all sorts of formatting issues, but the decision had been made to make his debut, which had been very hard to get hold of previously, available for a cheap price for his readers. Before discussing this book further I will warn you now that Mark was not being coy when he mentioned formatting issues, the ebook is full of misspellings, the word ‘it’ is often randomly put in a bold font, and the diary entries of characters are presented in a very annoying incredibly slim column down the middle of the page. If you are a bit fussy about your grammar, spellings and presentation this book might well give you an aneurism, but if you can get past that you will be rewarded with an interesting debut novel full of ideas and creativity.
The Reef is set on the same world as The Legends of the Red Sun but in a different time and in a different part of the world, but with many of the same themes and ideas. Here the city of Escha with its corrupt Mayor and government take the role of the city of Villjamur from The Legends of the Red Sun series with their colonialist foreign policy. We quickly learn that years before an entire city, Lucher, was wiped from the face of the world for daring to defy Escha. Again an environmental disaster threatens the world in the loss of possibly an entire species that was previously believed to be extinct, and again the powers that be care more about lining their pockets and possible threats to their own power. Other features of this novel that will be familiar to readers of Mark’s Legends of the Red Sun series are the fantastic creatures that populate his world such as the rumels, and Mark’s first look at the difficulties in an inter species relationship, and some new species, that like those in Legends of the Red Sun partly resemble species from ancient Greek mythology, the icthyocentaur and the furies. In effect The Reef can be seen as Mark’s test run for the longer and more epic Legends of the Red Sun series.
Moving away from comparisons to The Legends of the Red Sun, I would actually compare this novel to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Santiago DeBrelt plays the Professor Challenger role leading a team to a remote island where the previously thought extinct species, the ichthyocentaurs, live, with Manolin in the Edward Malone role. Just like in The Lost World the team discover that a tribe of humans already live on the island in harmony with the ichthyocentaurs, but their peace is threatened by the furies (taking the role of the ape men of The Lost World). Unknown to the team of adventurers, the islanders and the ichthyocentaurs, the furies are not quite the malevolent attackers they first appear, but are protecting the world from a much bigger threat, the Quidlo. This storyline is told alongside that of a concurrent storyline (just like in The Legends of the Red Sun series, there is more than one storyline to follow and they only come together at the end) that of a group of terrorists or freedom fighters looking to avenge the destruction of Lucher.
As I said before this is a debut novel where Newton is still honing his craft, and this can be seen in how clumsily the two storylines work together. In his later books each storyline feels cleverly crafted and integral while here the tale of the Jella and her freedom fighters feels secondary. Things are not helped by how clumsily the two storylines are woven together as the plot of Jella and her band is given several chapters in a row at the beginning of the novel, before being dropped except for an occasional chapter until the end. When the two storylines come together it’s almost an afterthought, there is a brief conversation between Santiago and Jella, and then finally the second storyline comes to an admittedly dramatic conclusion. My other gripe is how unresolved all the plotlines feel, while admittedly there is a lot of power in the open ended ending, here though things simply feel like they have been rushed to a rather unsatisfactory conclusion. Previously peaceful characters seem unaffected by the death and chaos surrounding them, and others simply disappear of the pages with no ending at all. It’s almost as if Mark wanted to put this book to bed so he could get on with his real task of writing his Legends of the Red Sun series.
These criticisms aside, there is much to admire in this novel. Newton is already showing a deft hand at writing sympathetic and believable characters and then spinning our perspective of them by showing them through another character’s less sympathetic eyes. Manolin goes from being seen by the reader as a naïve, wide eyed scientist so cruelly abused by his wife, to an arrogant ingrate who either cruelly neglects those who care for him or takes advantage of them for his own needs oblivious to the hurt he causes them. Newton paints the characters in shades of grey, and ultimately the correct view of Manolin involves elements of both portrayals. The interactions between the characters is well done as well, by jumping through the different points of view of each character the reader can both understood why certain conflicts have arisen, and why the characters react in the ways they do. It’s just a shame that some characters are given better resolutions to their arcs than others.
In conclusion I would recommend that any fans of Mark Charan Newton’s other novels snap this up for its bargain ebook price, and bearing in mind the lowness of the price, forgive the formatting issues! The novel shows a young writer honing his craft, and while it has its flaws, the creativity on display and brilliant character writing more than make up for these.